Baldy, part of Gray Wolf Ridge and chipmunk silliness
I spotted this rusty old coffee can on my way up the Tyler Peak trail on Saturday morning, it dates from the 1960s. Pretty neat to see, I thought. At the time, I was starting to dawdle a little since I was finally out of the forest, views to the south up the Dungeness were growing eye-poppingly dramatic and the path was the sort of agonizingly steep dirt that makes your calves ache as you’re walking flat-footed-toes-pointing-straight-up for purchase. I glanced down and there was the coffee can. Jittery elk hunters here? I’m not sure where the national park boundary is. On the Olympic NP-issue map, the boundary line slices through Baldy. Moreover, there’s Buckhorn Wilderness right here. But I’m positive I’ve heard of hunting up here. But anyway, a long time ago I worked in a food bank in Eugene and we got tons of cheap junk food with the Western Family label (it’s an Oregon company). It’s your standard generic brand. Whenever I see the Western Family brand, I think vividly back to those depressing days in the food bank when I was making $7 an hour getting bossed around by an 80 year old geezer who was struggling with macular degeneration and he’d shove cans of pinto beans in my face and ask me if they were diced or round pineapples. I was like his human seeing eye dog, really!
At any rate, I finally made it to the top of Baldy, elevation 6,797 feet! Baldy itself will never make it onto any postcards or calendars but this windswept place in the northeast corner of the Olympic Mountains offers utterly majestic views in every direction. I love the “localness” of Baldy- I think the close-by views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands and Whidbey Island give it that character. And yet you’re rewarded with airplane views of so much of the Olympic Mountains. The only downside to the entire day was the sky over the mountains gradually turned an uninspiring milky haze and the sun was ringed most of the time by what’s referred to as an ice halo or gloriole. If you’ve never seen one- it’s basically a rainbow-like halo around the sun. I’ve always found ice halos to be an interesting phenomenon but I’m not particularly fond of them since they usually signal a muddled sky. Suffice to say, I wasn’t productive in the photography department. I really should not be quibbling because it was such a fantastic day, but I’m just being honest since I did lug a ten pound camera up here when my iPhone would have worked just fine. The day was very cool and breezy, I never overheated despite the fact I drank four quarts of water. Rhododendrons were blooming here and there in the woods, that was a nice surprise. There wasn’t another human in sight the entire day, that was the biggest surprise. I was surrounded on all sides by incredible alpine scenery. Deer bounded across the mountainside. Here’s my favorite part: A cute little chipmunk licked my backpack while I ate lunch. I’ll be honest, I succumbed to her charms and shared a few crumbs with her……I mean, she was licking my sweat! A cute little critter could not be any more pathetic or deserving. I’ll take the blame if the National Park Service has to trap and re-locate her because she’s become habituated to human perspiration and Clif granola bars.
An explanation for this picture: I was hoping to lure the little chipmunk to the toe of my boot. She was a tad pushy from the very start, dashing around and under my legs in circles. I wasn’t afraid of her, but I’m not crazy about little rodents going all over my legs and up my arm sleeves. What if she had something like Mad Marmot Disease?
I dropped 600 feet off Baldy’s summit (it felt like a double black diamond scree run) to venture a quarter of the way along Gray Wolf Ridge. I’m coming back in a couple months to summit Gray Wolf Mountain, but right now there’s a big cornice on the last ridge to the summit. I’m fairly confident I have the cojones to get to the top after it’s melted out. I think I do. In the picture above you’re looking at Gray Wolf from the top of Baldy. Gray Wolf. I love place names that inspire!
I lounged on Gray Wolf Ridge for at least an hour, luxuriating in my newest hiking food discovery- peanut butter-flavored Gu. Gu is basically, I dunno what you call it……. energy food gel? And you squeeze it out of a foil packet like an astronaut meal and it looks like a cross between toothpaste and cat diarrhea, which I realize is not a raving endorsement. But trust me, this stuff really works because I actually gained weight after this hike, which makes me quite angry considering the difficulty of getting to the top of Baldy for the average Joe Schmo like me.
The way down through the woods wasn’t as dreadful or long as I anticipated but I did get a hotspot on the back ball of each foot. If I kept walking and didn’t stop at all despite my screaming knees, the glowing embers on the soles of my feet felt vaguely like the most wondrous itch that can never be satisfied. I blame the socks I was wearing and the absence of hiking sock liners. I’ve gotten into the habit the past couple years of forgoing sock liners in my hiking boots, I got so tired of the hiking sock liner racket. I hate how sock liners sit unused half the year. And some of the newfangled socks wick moisture away so well, liners seem like overkill. Well, I may need to rethink my sock liner philosophy for particularly steep hikes. And that’s how I end this story, about a mountain called “Baldy” and my aversion to sock liners. Towering so high above dreamlike valleys and keeping company with fortress mountains…….
Below is a view of the steep meadows below Tyler Peak, where you emerge from the forest and head straight up for the saddle between the false summit of Baldy and the mini-gendarmes of Tyler’s west ridge.
And here’s that dizzying view looking straight up to Tyler’s west ridge. It’s ridiculously steep but very pleasant walking, once you get up here your feet will feel like they have down pillows attached to them. You’ll fight the urge to lay in the grass. If you do lay down, watch out for petrified elk turds. Last year it smelled like a cow pasture up here, this year seemed distinctly fresher. If you’re headed to Tyler Peak, you’ll wander to the right (east) at about this vantage. For Baldy, you’ll gradually veer to the left (west) until you’ve attained a bare saddle.
A little snowmelt on the saddle between Tyler Peak and Baldy….